John Kleckner’s ink drawings have something of the quality, in both form and content, of 1970s progressive rock album covers. Wild-haired men, like the forgotten drummers of once loved bands, their beards tousled into meticulous strands, suffer psychedelic indignities: decaptitated, noseless, they seem to stand for a kind of besieged heroism, subject to graphic assault but still dreamyeyed and maybe stoned. In Untitled (Faces), two floating heads (male and female) bob across the space like jellyfish, their hair entwined and entangled irredeemably.
Kleckner’s descriptive line – both realistic and excessively so, with a focus on textures of hair, fur and grass – gives the image its air of amplified realism, which tips over into the graphic arabesques of Art Nouveau. These are characters disappearing into pattern. In another, untitled work, a decomposing human face deems either vomiting or being invaded by a sea of swirling textures: leaf-like, lava-like. The matter of the world itself, with all its complex internal patterns, seems bent on dissolution and decay; nature is an unbridled thing, teeming with destructive beauty, as in the clambering insects dismembering the title animal in Untitled (Dead Bird).
In Kleckner’s work, humanity is a clumsy beast at odds with its surroundings. Untitled (Hercules) depicts the mythical hero as dumb nude, excessively muscled and void of expression, his Michelangelesque hand tweaking his tiny genitals as though checking they’re still there. Though rippling with strength, he seems softened and emasculated, aimlessly striding through a no-man’s land towards his certain doom.